Yesterday morning, I was in a warehouse breathing in the exhaust from a kerosene heater. I was in that warehouse turned indoor baseball training facility to watch my nine year old son's private hitting lesson.
When I was young, I played baseball all the time. When I was not playing baseball, I was playing whiffle ball. When I was not playing whiffle ball, I was playing stickball. In the winter, my best friend Joe and I would play ruler ball, an indoor baseball game played with a rolled up piece of tinfoil and a ruler. When we tired of that, we played Strat-o-matic baseball.
My oldest son never showed much interest in Baseball. Soccer was his passion. My youngest son, on the other hand, has an unbridled passion for baseball and skill to match. At the age of two, he could hit anything that you threw at him. At five, he was able to hit in a 35 mph batting cage with consistency. It made me proud every time someone looked at him in awe and asked me how old he was. Once organized ball started, he led his team and perhaps the entire league in hitting each and every year.
In the off season he would drive me nuts asking when baseball would start again. So I started taking to the batting cages once a week in the winter. Last year, I hired a highly regarded hitting instructor to keep him sharp in the off season.
So there I am watching him hit ball after ball of one hour with a kerosene heater screaming in the background. The situation triggered a memory of a bio I saw during the Olympics about a Russian gymnast who worked out in an old warehouse 2,000 kilometers from her parents and her home town. Can you even imagine sending your kid away on the hope they will be that one in a million kid to make it? But the world is full of fanatical parents who push their kids to pursue Olympic sized dreams. Or should I say wacky parent's dreams?
This is new right? Big money and ESPN fame must be driving this phenomenon. Right?
Well you may be surprised to know that parents have perhaps always been a little nutty when it comes to their kids.
Since the early days of the Catholic Church, Popes have looked for singers with unusually high voices for the Vatican choir. St. Paul forbade women from singing in church so any church musical piece that was scored for a very high voice required a prepubescent boy or a man straining to sing a high falsetto.
One day, someone realized that boys who were castrated (had their testicles removed) retained their high-pitched voices into manhood. Pope Clement VIII started employing the services of Castrati (castrated sopranos) around 1600. The Vatican Chapel choir used them up until 1902. (Three hundred years.)
The practice of castrating boys became totally acceptable in Italy by the eighteenth century. The Castrati were highly prized by opera companies. A successful soprano could become very rich. As a consequence, many poor Italian families with a young son possessing an exceptional soprano voice would have him castrated in hopes of becoming a big star in adulthood. Even though most did not find fame and many died of infection.
So after the hitting lesson, in the freezing cold warehouse at 9:00 o'clock in the morning when every missed hit ball stung his hands, I asked my son how the lesson was. It was a gut check to make sure I was not pushing him. He said, "Dad that was awesome. When is the next lesson?"
As long as he's having fun, I'll continue to build his confidence, I'll give him strategies to get better and I'll give him the financial support and resources to meet his goals. And I will sit back and watch him go balls to the walls to achieve his dreams whatever they may be.